As financial officers, our natural instinct is to provide full and complete disclosure. It is all part and parcel of our basic honesty.
When I was in the Advertising business, now so many years ago, I was often in a situation where I had to inform my boss about something important. He was a brilliant guy, but he honestly had a very limited attention span. My task was to ensure he knew enough that I met my responsibilities, but not tell him SO much that his attention trailed off. If you consider that most of our “meetings” took place between phone calls that he “had to take,” or on the way to the elevator, you can appreciate the complexity and difficulty of my task.
The truth is that most of humanity is more than satisfied with a simple answer to a complex question. No more perfect example exists than what is going on in our national politics. If you can’t break what you need to communicate into simple sound bites, no one ever even hears “the truth” you would like to explain to them. Unfortunately there are complex and important questions that don’t lend themselves to this solution, but we will have to leave that discussion for another time, preferably after a few beers or glasses of wine.
When it comes to job search, your objective is a little different. Here, the “difficult questions” that you might be asked need to be answered in very simple terms if for no other reason than you don’t want to impart any more importance to them than is absolutely necessary. There honestly is no time for our classic “primarily due to, partially offset by.” The more time you spend addressing an issue, the greater its apparent importance.
That said the truth needs to be told. All answers you give WILL be held against you if they are in any way proven to be incorrect, and if that happens, you will suffer the consequence of not being offered a job.
If we start with the most obvious question of why you left your last job, you can begin to appreciate the fact that you are on a slippery slope regardless of what you answer. There are always a lot of reasons why you left your last job. If you were terminated, let me assure you that unless you were caught with your hand in the till and fired for cause, the reasons that were provided to you are unlikely to be accurate in any sense.
For example, you can’t suggest that you and your boss didn’t get along. Think about the implications. I would also suggest that if you indeed had problems getting along with your boss, you need to take responsibility for the decision to go to work for that individual.
As an example you can indicate that your initial impression when you accepted the job was one thing, but as time went on, you came to better appreciate the differences between your personalities and work methods. But, go gently and briefly down this path.
You do need to have answers in your mind for every “elephant sitting in the room.” To not prepare an answer and practice it will doom you to flushing red when asked. Most people are prepared to accept just about anything you tell them. Let me emphasize again that what you say needs to be the truth, but the WHOLE truth will take far too long. No one on the other side of the table needs or requires that kind of depth.
The advantage of preparing your answers is that, as in court, you can move into the safety of “question asked, question answered.” Be aware of answers that lend themselves to follow up questions. And, keep in mind that every story you tell is a story about how you are likely to perform in a new job.
Another delicate area is your health. We are all getting older. Fortunately we live in an era when things that were death sentences years ago are totally curable. Keep in mind that those who are blessed with good health may not know that. Don’t go into details about how you came to be diagnosed and/or about your treatment. As fascinating as every detail may be to you, it is nobody’s business, and again, every unnecessary minute you spend on a topic dimensions its importance to the listener.
In short, don’t spill the beans.
Be factual. Be correct. Be accurate. But, don’t tell anyone EVERYTHING they might want to know. Be a good editor and only tell them what they need to know to make a correct decision about your terrific credentials.